MURRAY ADASKIN: Born in Toronto, March 28, 1906; died in Victoria, B.C. May 6, 2002

No composer was more deserving than Murray Adaskin to have his music open the NAC Orchestra’s inaugural concert on October 7, 1969. He wanted to provide something light-hearted, enjoyable and entertaining, as suggested by the work’s title. Quirky rhythms, piquant harmonies and a “bright ’n breezy” spirit contribute to helping Diversion for Orchestra live up to its name.

Murray Adaskin came from one of Canada’s most distinguished and gifted families. In fact, the Adaskins might well be called Canada’s first family of musicians. His brother Harry was a violinist and educator. Brother John was a cellist, conductor, radio producer and administrator. Another brother, Gordon, became a painter, but his connection to the world of music was close, as Murray became an avid collector of Canadian art. Murray’s first wife of more than half a century, Frances James, was a soprano. This multi- talented musician - violinist, composer, conductor, teacher, champion Read More
MURRAY ADASKIN: Born in Toronto, March 28, 1906; died in Victoria, B.C. May 6, 2002

No composer was more deserving than Murray Adaskin to have his music open the NAC Orchestra’s inaugural concert on October 7, 1969. He wanted to provide something light-hearted, enjoyable and entertaining, as suggested by the work’s title. Quirky rhythms, piquant harmonies and a “bright ’n breezy” spirit contribute to helping Diversion for Orchestra live up to its name.

Murray Adaskin came from one of Canada’s most distinguished and gifted families. In fact, the Adaskins might well be called Canada’s first family of musicians. His brother Harry was a violinist and educator. Brother John was a cellist, conductor, radio producer and administrator. Another brother, Gordon, became a painter, but his connection to the world of music was close, as Murray became an avid collector of Canadian art. Murray’s first wife of more than half a century, Frances James, was a soprano. This multi- talented musician - violinist, composer, conductor, teacher, champion of Canadian music and all-around musical proselytizer – might be regarded as a sort of Canadian Leonard Bernstein. In the course of his 96 years (1906-2002), Adaskin came to represent one of the pioneers of Canada’s musical identity and creator of some of its finest music. Hence, it was entirely appropriate that this composer was chosen by the National Arts Centre to write the work that opened its resident orchestra’s first concert of its inaugural season on October 7, 1969. This was Diversion for Orchestra.

The title derives from the French word divertissement, meaning something light, entertaining, playful and amusing; something that “diverts” the mind from anything serious. The nine-minute work is laid out in simple rondo form (ABACA). The “A” sections act as anchors, or pillars, for the full orchestra, while the “B” and “C” sections fragment the full ensemble into smaller units and solo passages. Quirky rhythms, piquant harmonies and a “bright ’n breezy” spirit contribute to helping Diversion live up to its name.

© 2010, Robert Markow

JOHN BECKWITH: Born in Victoria, British Columbia, March 9, 1927; now living in Toronto

Quirky rhythms, a sense of fun, and unmistakable dancelike impulses infuse this eminently pleasant, approachable score by one of Canada’s most esteemed senior composers.

Music for Dancing was Beckwith’s first professional commission. It came in 1948 from a small concert series in Toronto, the Forest Hill Community Centre. In its original form, it was written for piano four hands and was intended to have choreography, but this did not materialize, so the premiere was given in concert form. Shortly thereafter, Beckwith scored the work for large orchestra in which version it received several performances, including by the Toronto Symphony. However, the composer “became dissatisfied with this version and eventually withdrew it.” Beckwith then rescored Music for Dancing for a smaller orchestra upon commission from the National Ballet of Canada in 1959. In this form it was danced, but far more often the work is heard simply as a concert piece.

“The music i Read More
JOHN BECKWITH: Born in Victoria, British Columbia, March 9, 1927; now living in Toronto

Quirky rhythms, a sense of fun, and unmistakable dancelike impulses infuse this eminently pleasant, approachable score by one of Canada’s most esteemed senior composers.

Music for Dancing was Beckwith’s first professional commission. It came in 1948 from a small concert series in Toronto, the Forest Hill Community Centre. In its original form, it was written for piano four hands and was intended to have choreography, but this did not materialize, so the premiere was given in concert form. Shortly thereafter, Beckwith scored the work for large orchestra in which version it received several performances, including by the Toronto Symphony. However, the composer “became dissatisfied with this version and eventually withdrew it.” Beckwith then rescored Music for Dancing for a smaller orchestra upon commission from the National Ballet of Canada in 1959. In this form it was danced, but far more often the work is heard simply as a concert piece.

“The music is light and humorous,” writes the composer, “though there are moments of quiet reflection. Even though quite detached from it now (after all, I was 21 when it was composed!), I am pleased if it continues to prove interesting to players and listeners. The interest may lie in the way it exemplifies an early stylistic position of someone of my generation; obviously I was involved at that time with Ravel, Poulenc, the Walton of Façade – though I hope I didn’t just copy them. It seems I was also exposed to Satie, if one listens to the “Valse”; but as far as I recall, I knew none of his music in 1948.”

© 2010, Robert Markow

JOHN ESTACIO: Born in Newmarket, Ontario, April 8, 1966; now living in Edmonton

A thunderous introduction by the percussion, a quirky little chromatic melody tossed back and forth by various pairs of instruments, an ostentatious tune in the brass and a lilting melody in the flute are the ingredients John Estacio mixes into his brisk little five-minute concert opener, a work that truly lives up to its title – an amalgamation of the words “frenetic” and “energy.”

John Estacio ranks as one of Canada’s most frequently commissioned and performed composers. Over the past decade and a half he has served as composer-in-residence at the Edmonton Symphony (1992-1999), the Calgary Philharmonic (2000-2003), the Banff Centre and Calgary Opera (both 2000-2004). In 2003 Calgary Opera gave the world premiere of Estacio’s first opera, Filumena, to a libretto by Canadian playwright John Murrell. Filumena was also performed in Ottawa as part of the opening events of Alberta Scene in 2005. Calgary Opera likewise premiered his second opera, Read More
JOHN ESTACIO: Born in Newmarket, Ontario, April 8, 1966; now living in Edmonton

A thunderous introduction by the percussion, a quirky little chromatic melody tossed back and forth by various pairs of instruments, an ostentatious tune in the brass and a lilting melody in the flute are the ingredients John Estacio mixes into his brisk little five-minute concert opener, a work that truly lives up to its title – an amalgamation of the words “frenetic” and “energy.”

John Estacio ranks as one of Canada’s most frequently commissioned and performed composers. Over the past decade and a half he has served as composer-in-residence at the Edmonton Symphony (1992-1999), the Calgary Philharmonic (2000-2003), the Banff Centre and Calgary Opera (both 2000-2004). In 2003 Calgary Opera gave the world premiere of Estacio’s first opera, Filumena, to a libretto by Canadian playwright John Murrell. Filumena was also performed in Ottawa as part of the opening events of Alberta Scene in 2005. Calgary Opera likewise premiered his second opera, Frobisher, on January 27, 2007, also to a libretto by Murrell.

Estacio composed the five-minute Frenergy for the Edmonton Symphony, which gave the first performance on March 20, 1998 with Grezegorz Nowak conducting. Frenergy has since become one of Estacio’s most popular works. The composer writes:

“The title comes from an amalgamation of the words ‘frenetic’ and ‘energy.’ The tempo for this short concert opener is brisk and the pacing of melodic ideas is often a bit frantic, as befits the title. It begins with a thunderous introduction by the percussion, which establish the infectious 6/8 pulse. After an orchestral tutti, the winds introduce a chromatic melody that is quickly tossed back and forth from pairings of instruments. This quirky little melody often complements an ostentatious tune frequently performed by the brass. The third melody, introduced by a solo flute, is perhaps the most substantial tune of the piece and is strongly characterized by the 6/8 lilt of the piece. A harmonically restless string passage leads into a return of the opening material, and the piece concludes with a full force orchestral tutti along with the pounding drums of the opening.”

© 2010, Robert Markow

JACQUES HÉTU: Born in Trois-Rivières, August 8, 1938; died in Saint-Hippolyte (near St. Jerome), Quebec, February 9, 2010

One usually associates the flute with bright colors, brilliant sonorities and lively tempos. Yet much of Hétu’s Flute Concerto has a somber, moody feeling, almost as if the music had some dark secret it was trying to express. The soloist is almost constantly busy, often in serious dialogue with a member or members of the orchestra. Despite some dazzling, even virtuosic writing for the soloist, especially in the last movement, this is no light-hearted work.

Jacques Hétu’s catalogue is particularly distinguished by a large number of concertos, many of them for instruments that do not ordinarily get a chance to enjoy such attention (the guitar, organ, ondes Martenot, bassoon and trombone, among others). There are also concertos for flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet, horn (the Sérénade héroïque), two for piano and several concertos for multiple instruments. The Flute Concerto was commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and dedicated to Robert Cram, who Read More
JACQUES HÉTU: Born in Trois-Rivières, August 8, 1938; died in Saint-Hippolyte (near St. Jerome), Quebec, February 9, 2010

One usually associates the flute with bright colors, brilliant sonorities and lively tempos. Yet much of Hétu’s Flute Concerto has a somber, moody feeling, almost as if the music had some dark secret it was trying to express. The soloist is almost constantly busy, often in serious dialogue with a member or members of the orchestra. Despite some dazzling, even virtuosic writing for the soloist, especially in the last movement, this is no light-hearted work.

Jacques Hétu’s catalogue is particularly distinguished by a large number of concertos, many of them for instruments that do not ordinarily get a chance to enjoy such attention (the guitar, organ, ondes Martenot, bassoon and trombone, among others). There are also concertos for flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet, horn (the Sérénade héroïque), two for piano and several concertos for multiple instruments. The Flute Concerto was commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and dedicated to Robert Cram, who was soloist in the world premiere conducted by Victor Feldbrill on February 26, 1992. The composer writes:

“The concerto is essentially lyrical due to the predominance of melody and harmonic and tone colors, but it nevertheless maintains a strict discipline in its structural organization. The unity of the work emanates from the constant variation of its basic elements and their interaction from one movement to the next in transformations derived from cyclical processes. In other words, these elements of style could be defined as neoclassical forms and neoromantic expression in a language using techniques of the twentieth century, in particular the use of chromaticism together with a certain post-impressionist color. The composer’s description, paraphrased runs as follows:

The first movement alternates between moderato and allegro tempos, exposing and developing elements that are in turn calm and rapid, similar to the bithematic sonata form.

The second movement is an Adagio in three sections (ABA). The flute’s song is accompanied by a muted trumpet in the first section while the central section, which begins with flute arabesques around the solo violin, evolves towards an intense and dramatic tutti. In the third section, the melody of the flute returns, accompanied by the other woodwinds.

The third movement is a rondo marked Vivace, where the thematic elements of previous movements undergo new metamorphoses to “burst” into music that is dancelike in nature.

© 2010, Robert Markow

CLERMONT PÉPIN: Born in St-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec, May 15, 1926; died in Montreal, September 2, 2006

In this tautly constructed, finely-crafted work Pépin has used models of musical genres common to the Baroque world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to create a thoroughly twentieth-century example of the symphony.

Clermont Pépin composed his Second Symphony in the latter half of 1957 and heard it premiered on December 22 by the Orchestra of the Little Symphonies of Montreal, for whom it was written, conducted by Roland Leduc. The composer writes:

“The overall form of the symphony differs from classical form in that in place of the conventional opening allegro movement, the symphony begins with a toccata. The word must be understood here in its general sense of underscoring the percussive nature of the music. The second movement is a chorale whose character, mournful and serene by turns, serves as a contrast to the excitable first movement. The finale is an atonal fugue whose subject is in a constant state of flux.”

It is interesting to Read More
CLERMONT PÉPIN: Born in St-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec, May 15, 1926; died in Montreal, September 2, 2006

In this tautly constructed, finely-crafted work Pépin has used models of musical genres common to the Baroque world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to create a thoroughly twentieth-century example of the symphony.

Clermont Pépin composed his Second Symphony in the latter half of 1957 and heard it premiered on December 22 by the Orchestra of the Little Symphonies of Montreal, for whom it was written, conducted by Roland Leduc. The composer writes:

“The overall form of the symphony differs from classical form in that in place of the conventional opening allegro movement, the symphony begins with a toccata. The word must be understood here in its general sense of underscoring the percussive nature of the music. The second movement is a chorale whose character, mournful and serene by turns, serves as a contrast to the excitable first movement. The finale is an atonal fugue whose subject is in a constant state of flux.”

It is interesting to note that, despite the thoroughly modern (for 1957) sound of this symphony, all three movements bear titles of musical genres common to the Baroque period (late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries). The toccata aspect of the first movement is found in the regular, rapidly pulsing eighth notes (beginning in the seventh measure), which travel relentlessly throughout the orchestra, often passing from one section or range to another. Pépin’s use of the toccata is somewhat free in that he interjects passages where the regularly pulsing eighths are temporarily abandoned and, most unusually, superimposes lyrical lines that ride over the pulsing toccata element.

The term “chorale” likewise is used freely. The opening and closing sections do bear relation to the kind of chorales Bach wrote, not in terms of harmonic practice but in the sense that all the lines move to the same slow, stately metrical pattern. As in the toccata movement, Pépin from time to time superimposes a lyrical element over the chorale material, initially with a solo violin, near the end a clarinet, then flute. Of the three movements, the final fugue adheres most closely to the Baroque model. Yet here too Pépin introduces a uniquely twentieth-century element: an extended episode for percussion alone. To a classical orchestra composed of just pairs of winds plus strings, Pépin has added enough percussion instruments to create an entire fugal episode that closely approximates what the full orchestra has previously presented: 5 wood blocks, 5 temple blocks, 2 bongos, 2 tom-toms, gong, triangle, cymbals, Chinese cymbal, bell, tambourine, snare drum, military drum, bass drum, 5 timpani, xylophone and marimba.

© 2010, Robert Markow

GODFREY RIDOUT: Born in Toronto, May 6, 1918; died in Toronto, November 24, 1984

A dreamily sensuous atmosphere, a serene beauty, a pastoral evocation and a focus on melody have earned Ridout’s Ballade a favored place in the repertory of many violists.

Godfrey Ridout’s first big success as a composer came in 1938 with his Ballade for Viola and String Orchestra. Written as a youth of twenty, it earned him a scholarship to study with Healey Willan. “I was still young enough to imitate shamelessly my favorite composers, Elgar and Delius,” Ridout observed. “The resemblances to Delius stop after the first bar, but undisguised fragments of the Elgar Cello Concerto crop up throughout the balance of the work.
The first performance was given by Jack Neilson and the Toronto Conservatory Orchestra in 1939. Beginning in 1940, the internationally famous violist William Primrose took it into his repertory and performed it often. Primrose commented after his first performance of the piece with the Toronto Symphony: “[Ridout] has caught the peculiar tonal spirit of the viola, and his orchest Read More
GODFREY RIDOUT: Born in Toronto, May 6, 1918; died in Toronto, November 24, 1984

A dreamily sensuous atmosphere, a serene beauty, a pastoral evocation and a focus on melody have earned Ridout’s Ballade a favored place in the repertory of many violists.

Godfrey Ridout’s first big success as a composer came in 1938 with his Ballade for Viola and String Orchestra. Written as a youth of twenty, it earned him a scholarship to study with Healey Willan. “I was still young enough to imitate shamelessly my favorite composers, Elgar and Delius,” Ridout observed. “The resemblances to Delius stop after the first bar, but undisguised fragments of the Elgar Cello Concerto crop up throughout the balance of the work.
The first performance was given by Jack Neilson and the Toronto Conservatory Orchestra in 1939. Beginning in 1940, the internationally famous violist William Primrose took it into his repertory and performed it often. Primrose commented after his first performance of the piece with the Toronto Symphony: “[Ridout] has caught the peculiar tonal spirit of the viola, and his orchestration for strings is as fine as the solo.” Many other violists have followed suit. The work focuses on the melodic element, and a gentle, pastoral aura predominates.

© 2010, Robert Markow

Learning Objectives

"Musical Structures" is designed for students and educators to meet the following objectives:
  • identify traditional musical structures in music by contemporary Canadian composers
  • explore the fit between traditional structures and non-traditional composition

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